A New Health Disparities Toolkit for Public Health Agencies to Improve Their Practices

Racial and ethnic minorities receive less and lower-quality health care and have higher rates of preventable sickness and death than non-minorities according to numerous studies. Elimination of these disparities has long been a goal of public health agencies at all levels of government. Little progress has been made in closing those gaps, however.

From August 2007 to March 2010, researchers at the University of Washington School of Nursing in Seattle developed an inventory of practices and strategies being used by public health agencies to address the problem of disparities. They also established an electronic database of the most promising initiatives that serves as a tool for agencies striving to improve their efforts to reduce disparities.

Researchers gathered data for the inventory by conducting literature searches, distributing an online survey about disparity efforts to 619 local public health agency leaders who had indicated in the 2008 NAACHO profile that they had engaged in activities to address disparities, and interviewing officials from 38 local health departments. This enabled the researchers to learn more about their programs to address health disparities.

Key Results

Project Director Berkowitz reported the following results to RWJF:

  • The research team created a Health Disparities Toolkit, a searchable database of summaries of 27 programs and tools to address health disparities from local health departments. The toolkit was designed to provide policy-makers, public health systems researchers, and public health leaders with inspiration and ideas for implementing programs to address health disparities and inequities.

    Examples of featured programs and tools are:
    • Building Social & Health Equity, Alameda County, Calif. The Alameda County Public Health Department employs institutional and policy change and community capacity building to change the way it conducts public health and integrates more equitable systems, policies, procedures and practices into its daily activities.
    • Preparedness through Linking All Neighbors (P.L.A.N.), Madison and Dane County, Wis. This is a 10-step approach to emergency preparedness and all-disaster planning through building social capital, partnerships and collaboration. P.L.A.N. conducts community outreach to raise awareness and spark discussion about racial and economic inequities. It provides support and resources for organizing communities around effective emergency response.